UPDATE: Following the publication of this article, Haaziq Kazi '24 was named to Times of India's Unstoppable 21 list.
By Chelsea Edgar
While washing his hands after soccer practice one afternoon in 2016, Haaziq Kazi ’24 had a life-changing idea. Haaziq, then a fourth-grader, had recently watched a few documentaries about the staggering amount of plastic waste that ends up in the oceans— around 11 million metric tons each year, according to the Ocean Conservancy— and he was overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. As Haaziq watched water disappear down the drain of a sink, he was struck by an insight: What if he built a contraption that could suck plastic out of the oceans in the same way?
That moment was the genesis of ERVIS, a ship model that Haaziq invented to trawl the seas for waste. For now, ERVIS exists only as a prototype, but Haaziq’s idea, and his passion for protecting the oceans, has made him one of the world’s youngest ambassadors for marine conservation.
His efforts have attracted the attention of news outlets like The Washington Post and CNBC over the years, and his story was featured in a National Geographic India video on April 22 for Earth Day. At 17, Haaziq has already given multiple TED Talks, addressed the United Nations’ Global Governance Forum, and, with the help of his parents, launched the ERVIS Foundation, a nonprofit focused on youth education and promoting research into innovative ways to address the plastic crisis in the oceans. (ERVIS doesn’t stand for anything, he explained: “Fourth-grade me liked the way it sounded, and it just stuck, I guess.”)
When it comes to turning big dreams into reality, Haaziq thinks being young has certain advantages. “You have this innocence, this idea that you can try to fix things, essentially,” he said. From the beginning, his parents have encouraged him to follow his dreams, as far-fetched as they might have seemed. “We all have ideas that we might write down but that we don’t pursue,” he said. “I’ve just been very fortunate to have the drive to pursue my goals and the right environment, from very supportive parents to a very supportive school.”
Haaziq grew up in Pune, India. Both of his parents have engineering backgrounds—his father works in cybersecurity, and his mother studied electrical engineering and computer programming—but they never pushed him or his younger brother to pursue a career in STEM, Haaziq said. “India is a place where, stereotypically, parents put a lot of pressure on their children to excel in their academics, go to university, get an engineering degree or medical degree, and get a job,” he said. “But my parents just wanted us to be happy.”
After Haaziq’s aha moment at the sink, he built his first small-scale model of ERVIS: a circular vessel with a sink strainer-like attachment, reminiscent of something out of Star Trek, that only bobbed on the water for a few seconds before it sank. Gradually, Haaziq honed his concept with the help of scientists and engineers he’d met through his parents’ connections. He swapped the circular vessel for a renewable energy-powered barge with attached saucers that float alongside the ship. The ship’s motion would generate whirlpools, he explained, which would pull debris on the surface of the water into the saucers. The refuse would then travel through a network of tubes into various compartments inside the ship, depending on the trash’s weight and composition.
In 2017, when Haaziq was still a middle school student in Pune, he traveled to New York City to deliver a TED Talk on ERVIS. To prepare, he rehearsed his speech for his parents dozens of times. “It was really nerve-racking,” he said. “I went through 30 revisions of my script, just speaking and revising and practicing in front of anyone who was willing to listen. I think that was my first taste of real grit, just working for this huge extended period of time on one thing.” At the end of his talk, Haaziq—who was the youngest speaker at the TED event—received a standing ovation.
Innovation at Hotchkiss
At Hotchkiss, he has continued to develop his model of ERVIS. He spent the spring semester building a remotely operated underwater vehicle in the Class of 2017 Engineering, Fabrication, & Exploration (EFX) Lab. He said it could be useful someday for collecting waste at lower ocean depths. “Haaziq has built a frame that will support the propulsion, electronics, and underwater camera components. Next fall, he plans to continue working on this project by assembling the remaining components for testing in the water,” said Michael Boone, the outgoing director of the EFX Lab and instructor in engineering who worked closely with Haaziq on this vehicle. “Haaziq is a dedicated student. He comes to the EFX Lab after school and during his free time to research and work on his project. He also enjoys discovering how academic principles learned in other classes apply to his project.”
Haaziq has remained active in the ERVIS Foundation in spite of the time difference between Lakeville and Pune, where the nonprofit is based—not to mention the academic demands of life at Hotchkiss. “Managing a team that is mainly based in India makes me wake up early in the morning for meetings and stuff like that,” Haaziq said.
He has also found other opportunities at Hotchkiss to pursue his passion for the environment: He’s designing an independent co-curricular project to study the impact of plastic pollution in Lake Wononscopomuc, which he plans to begin next year. And he’s made some surprising discoveries about himself, he said—for instance, that he loves analyzing literature. This year, he took an English class with Katie Fleishman, Ph.D., instructor in English and incoming head of the English Department. Haaziq credits her with changing the way he reads. “I’ve never really liked English before, but Dr. Fleishman has made me see how texts are like a cipher,” he said. “And we’re trying to find the symbol, the motif, that essentially unlocks the secret to the whole text.”
In other words, analyzing a challenging work of literature has a lot in common with Haaziq’s greatest source of joy: solving really big puzzles.